By Todd Johnson
Two Cubs pitchers returned to action in Mesa last night. Alec Mills from Iowa went two innings with 2 Ks and Oscar de la Cruz from Myrtle Beach made his first appearance since May 25. Oscar threw 2 IP with 1 K. Those were good to read about! Based on Oscar’s rehab last year, I would expect them to work their way through the system before getting back to their respective affiliates.
Jake Stinnett seems to be flourishing as a reliever thanks in part to coach Ron Villone’s advice in Mesa. Stinnett has a 1.35 ERA in relief in his short time for the Smokies. Things are looking up for the 2014 second round pick.
The MiLB season is winding down with just two weeks to go for most of the affiliates. The DSL teams end next Saturday, the 26th. I started back to teaching this past week. However, it is always an adjustment transitioning from summer to school. I hope to write about three posts a week once I get settled at school a bit more.
There was a lot of good pitching this week. It was hard to pick a pitcher of the day every day this week. Duncan Robinson threw 5 scoreless and didn’t get pitcher of the day on the 17th. Jesus Tejada in the DSL struck out 10 on Friday while Erling Moreno Kd 8 in his lone start this week.
While I did not write much that was published the past week, I did some pre-writing activities. I began researching splits for the August All-Star Team and 2nd Half All-Star Team. I also narrowed down players for the second half breakout prospect awards.
For the breakout hitter, I am completely undecided. I have some thinking to do as no one in the states really stood out that hasn’t been on someone’s radar. As for starting pitching, Duncan Robinson and Michael Rucker are the finalists just for the second half. Dillon Maples, David Garner, and Craig Brooks are the relievers who earned serious props in the second half. Here are the first half breakout players.
I also began assembling some “Names to Know” for 2018. It is a collection of names from Mesa and Eugene with a few other players mixed in. Basically, these are the players who I can’t wait to see play. There are several names you already know. I will break that down into pitching and hitting storylines.
I don’t know when any of the posts listed above will be out, but I am leaning towards the early and middle parts of September. They would fit snugly alongside the year end affiliate reviews.
Tennessee – 2-4: Some hitters seem to have had a resurgence down in Tennessee after some poor second halfs. Jason Vosler, Charcer Burks, and David Bote seem to be turning it on to keep up with Yasiel Balaguert, who has been hot all second half.
Myrtle Beach – 7-1: They are getting hot just in time to defend the Mills Cup. Tyler Alamo is quietly putting together a great season.
South Bend – 5-2: If you take away June and the first two weeks of July, this would have been a playoff team. There’s a lot of talent here even if the record doesn’t show it.
Eugene – 2-5: Poor defense and a dormant offense are derailing their playoff chances. Miguel Amaya, on the other hand, seems to be finding his bat.
Mesa – 4-3: They are still very young and very raw. Catcher Marcus Mastrobuoni has been the team’s best hitter.
DSL 1 – 3-2: DSL 2 – 3-2
I will have a post out Tuesday summing up some possible prospects to keep an eye on at Fall Instructs from DSL 1 and DSL 2.
Duncan Robinson Part 1
By Todd Johnson
On Sunday morning, the Cubs announced that Jen-Ho Tseng and D.J. Wilson were named the Cubs’ MiLB Pitcher and Player of the Month for July. Tseng had a 1.42 ERA at AAA Iowa to go along with 23 Ks in 25.1 IP. Wilson hit .284 with 7 HRs and 21 RBI in between Mesa (rehab stint) and South Bend. With officially four weeks left in the MiLB season, it got me thinking: Who will be the Cubs MiLB Pitcher and Hitter of the Year?
When it comes to hitting, the winner is clear cut – Victor Caratini. No one else is even in the discussion in my mind. He’s batting .350 with a .959 OPS. He’s hit 10 HRs and driven in 58. While his OBP is a bit less than Mark Zagunis’, whose isn’t. I do not see how Caratini could lose this award. Since his return to Iowa from Chicago, he’s hitting .600.
On the other hand, selecting the Pitcher of the Year is going to be a tough choice that will play out over the next month. I currently have six pitchers in the running with five having a pretty good shot of staking a claim to it.
The Front Runners
Michael Rucker has done it all this year in 84 innings. He’s been a reliever and a starter. He’s been a closer, a setup man, and an ace. His 1.93 ERA is the lowest of the starters up for the award. His 95 Ks gives him a 9.21 K/9 rate. I love to watch him pitch as he just throws strikes. He’s only walked 16 all year.
Jen-Ho Tseng has had a resurgent year relying on good command of his pitches which includes a low 90s fastball and a plus curve and change. His 2.77 combined ERA between Iowa and Tennessee is impressive and he has 110 Ks in 120 IP.
Adbert Alzolay was my breakout player of the first half. Now at AA Tennessee, he has a combined 2.84 ERA between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee with 101 Ks in 107 IP. I like his energy, his pacing, and his 96-97 mph heater. He still needs to refine his secondaries going forward.
The Long Shots
Duncan Robinson is a bit like Rucker in that he began the year as a reliever and morphed into a starter. He was a Midwest League All-Star and was promoted in July to Myrtle Beach from South Bend. On the year, he has a 2.13 ERA over 91 innings. His 77 Ks take him out the discussion a bit when compared with other front runners.
It has been a most impressive season for Justin Steele. He’s been very steady all year. His 2.92 ERA is a testament to his approach and hard work after a rough season at South Bend in 2016. He has 82 Ks in 98.2 IP.
If you were to pick this award on sheer domination, reliever Dakota Mekkes would win hands down. He dominated at South Bend and then again at Myrtle Beach. He did allow an earned run for almost three months. Heading into today, his ERA is a miniscule 0.76 ERA to go along with 79 Ks in 59 IP. Opponents are only hitting .152 against him. If not for 27 walks, I think he would be in Tennessee.
I think Michael Rucker is currently in the lead. However, I truly think the award should go to Mekkes. For the past few years, the Cubs have rewarded starters including Tseng, Trevor Clifton and Duane Underwood. But Mekkes’ season has been one of pure domination across the board and two levels. However, I don’t think the Cubs will give that award to a reliever. I wish they would, though. I really wish they would.
By Todd Johnson
Eloy is gone.
Dylan Cease is gone.
Ian Happ is gone.
Albert Almora is gone.
Four months ago, they were the top five guys in the Cubs’ system. Two made it to Chicago while the other three were used in trades to obtain players that will hopefully bring another World Series trophy this year and/or next.
In looking at who might be the next group of players to make it to Chicago, one only need to look at AAA Iowa and AA Tennessee to see the next possible candidates who could arrive over the next year to help out.
I feel confident in saying that we can rule out any position players. No one in Chicago is going anywhere until at least after 2018. And that is not a even certainty.
So that leaves pitching.
The Cubs will have several openings in the bullpen and starting staff next year. I think the Cubs will use all avenues of talent acquisition to fill those spots. Still, here are five to seven prospects to watch the rest of August, fall instructs, and spring training as they could be in the discussion for a roster spot in 2018, or maybe even a bullpen spot this year.
Dillon Maples – It took a while, but he’s got it. In fact, he has always had “it.” Now he has confidence and a cutter to go with his upper 90s fastball and slider/curve “thingy” (That’s what Maples calls it). He has dominated two levels this year and is now working on a third. Based on his talent and ascension, he will get a precious 40 man spot this winter to escape being selected in the Rule V draft.
Jen-Ho Tseng – I loved him in 2014 as an 18-year-old at Kane County. The changeup fell off the table then. He will turn 23 this fall and should have a shot to compete for a starting spot at the back of the rotation in 2018. More than likely, he will probably be used as starting pitching depth for next season and be stored at Iowa. Still, I cannot wait to see him in camp next spring.
Craig Brooks – He is in Tennessee right now. In July, the right handed reliever did not allow a run and struck out 25 in 13.1 IP. It took him several months to figure it out at Myrtle Beach. It took him just 4 weeks at AA. I cannot wait to see what his mid to upper 90s heat will do at Iowa and in spring training.
Adbert Alzolay – Long term, I like his stuff better out of the pen. But for now, he’s starting and doing it very well throwing at 96 in the 6th and 7th innings. The secondaries still need some work. Hopefully, he can get those improved at AA before the spring. He is stretched out now in his second year of starting after being a reliever/piggyback starter in Eugene in 2015. He’s pretty healthy despite his small frame.
Matt Carasiti – He came over this summer in the Zac Rosscup trade from the Rockies. I have watched him pitched a couple of times. He throws in the middle 90s but doesn’t have that “out” pitch, but he does know how to pitch. You don’t get to be the closer in the All-Star game in a hitter’s league for nothing.
They have both been around for a while. Underwood in his second season at AA and Clifton, his first. For Underwood, he still throws in the upper 90s that either he commands or he doesn’t command and that can change from inning to inning. He just turned 23 so don’t expect the Cubs to give up on him anytime soon.
As for Trevor, he was outstanding through the All-Star Break at AA. Since, he’s struggled in his six second half starts. I still believe in his talents. At times, he is humming right along and runs into the big inning or a big fly. His walk rate is up a bit after being way down last year. He’s a mentally tough kid. At just 22, he’s worked hard to get here. He will continue to do so. This might be just a bump in the road for him to go around.
By Todd Johnson
This was the month of the hitters. It was also month that was hard to narrow down to just nine position players. In the past, I have sometimes had extra hitters at a position and that’s what I went to this month.
On the other hand, it was a decent month for starting pitchers in the system. Big innings, slumps, and warmer air made the ball fly a bit more. However, 7 starters found their way onto the team.
As for relievers, there was bonanza of relievers in the middle of July. At least 15 Cubs prospects had ERAs ranging from 0.00 to 1.50. By the end of the month, that was down to 7.
A lot of tough decisions had to be made including whether to add some players from the Arizona Rookie League Mesa Cubs and a couple of hot hitters from the Cubs DSL 1 team. I decided against it this month as there were so many excellent performances at the upper levels.
By Todd Johnson
The big league club went 4-1 at home this week and has won 7 out of 8 since the break. They now sit one game behind Milwaukee and are 5.5 games behind both Arizona and Colorado for a wild card spot. There are 66 games to go.That’s a lot of baseball left to be played. Jose Quintana goes tonight against the Cardinals on ESPN at 7.
That late start time for the Sunday game works great for me as I will be back in Beloit at 2 p.m. today watching South Bend play the Snappers, the A’s class A affiliate in the Midwest League. Yesterday, I got to interview reliever Wyatt Short and recent draft pick Austin Upshaw. I hope to talk to hitting coach Jeremy Farrell today about Kevonte Mitchell and Isaac Paredes. I will be going back to Beloit Monday night, but probably just as a normal fan.
I posted several pics I took last night on the Pics/Video page. You can see close up at-bats on video of Kevonte Mitchell, Isaac Paredes, Austin Upshaw, and Luis Ayala. I will add some more pics/video from today when I got home and there could be a few more on Monday.
For the month of July, I have made almost 150 baseball cards. The pictures have just been so good that I cannot stop. They are all stored on our Facebook account. It will be hard to pick just ten for the Cards of the Month.
Around the Minors This Week
Iowa: 3-5; 45-53 – Pitching still seems to be a big issue except for Jen-Ho Tseng. He went 7 IP last night and now has a 1.40 ERA in 3 starts at AAA. In a weird set of circumstances on Friday, John Andreoli was injured on one play, replaced by Bijan Radmacher, who was then injured on the very next play.
Tennessee: 2-3; 16-12 – Between the raindrops along the Gulf, the Smokies have run into some starting pitching issues. Hopefully, those can be resolved quickly as they are now tied with Montgomery for a playoff spot.
Myrtle Beach: 4-4; 12-16 – The bats have not woken up since the Eloy trade. Pitcher Michael Rucker has been amazing and Duncan Robinson had his best start since being promoted. Vimael Machin continues to hit since moving to high A.
South Bend: 3-3; 15-14 – It looks like they have their bullpen issues resolved, now they need to solidify the starting pitching. Carson Sands had 2 rough starts on his way back from having bone spurs removed this past winter. On the other hand, I have been impressed with Tyson Miller the last few starts. I will get to see his slider Monday.
Eugene: 4-3; 21-16 – Their first half ends today. If they win and Hillsboro loses, they make the playoffs. Hopefully the Emeralds can get it done. Miguel Amaya seems to have broken out of his slump the last four games and his average is up over .200 to .220. #1 draft pick Brendon Little debuts on Tuesday against Salem-Keiser. Also, Jesus Camargo looks a little too advanced for short season ball. His changeup is other wordly at this level.
Mesa: 2-4, 7-16 – It is becoming all about the draft picks. Chris Singleton seems to fit in the leadoff spot and Ramsey Romano and Cam Balego continue to rake at .400 clips. Pitcher Brendan King from Holy Cross made a start on Saturday and went 3 IP while allowing a run.
DSL 1: 2-3; 21-20
DSL 2: 2-4; 21-21 –
Draft Pick News
Alex Lange is the only draft pick that is left to be assigned to a team.
Coming Up This Week on Cubs Central
Another Jose Albertos Start
Dakota Mekkes Interview Part 2
South Bend Turning It Around
Second Half Surprises
Brendon Little’s First Start
Austin Upshaw Profile
By Todd Johnson
It has been a busy few days for me. I started getting ready for my real job as a history teacher by doing some long range-planning this week. But I am ready to get back to baseball writing.
I was able to take a few breaks and watch some outstanding pitching performances from Cubs prospects this week. As I mentioned last week, the Cubs farm system has shifted towards being pitching heavy. The past few days have proven that with some serious games thrown across all levels. When I go to pick the monthly prospect All-Star team in less two weeks, these guys will make my job very hard.
Duncan Robinson – In his third start at high A Myrtle Beach, Robinson put his excellent command to good use going 5 IP with 5 Ks while only allowing 1 hit. This was clearly his best start since being promoted. It lowered his ERA for the month to 3.27 and for the year to 2.28.
Manny Rondon – He got off to a rough start to begin 2017. I found it surprising as he was the Northwest League pitcher of the year in 2016. On Monday afternoon, the lefty went 6.2 IP and gave up only a run while striking out three. It was one of his best starts of the year. After a 3.60 ERA in June, things are beginning to look up.
Jose Albertos – At short season Eugene, the young 18-year-old top prospect has put up a 2.70 ERA so far. He has a really good fastball in the mid 90s that he can command most days. His curve is a work in progress. I wish he would use his change more as that could be his most devastating pitch.
Justin Steele – He has quietly put up one of the best seasons of any pitcher in the Cubs’ system in 2017. He credits a new mental focus that includes stir-fry and meditation before every game. His major league type arsenal is looking very good. On Sunday, in a rain shortened game, he only gave up 1 run in 4 innings, which is about the norm for him this year.
Thomas Hatch – In June, the Cubs 2016 third round pick put up a 0.98 ERA. He got roughed up in one start this month but still sports a 3.21 ERA in just July. With improved command of a “new” four seam fastball in his pocket, he has been changing eye levels all summer.
Jen-Ho Tseng – He might have the most underrated story in the Cubs’ system this summer. After a rebirth that made one think of his 2014 summer at Kane County, Tseng hung up a 2.99 ERA at AA Tennessee. Most impressive in his statistics arsenal were his 83 Ks in 90.1 IP. In his second start at AAA Iowa, Tseng went 7 IP with 8 Ks and did not allow a run on Monday night.
Michael Rucker – His transformation has been stunning this year. As a reliever, he was a strikeout machine at South Bend. He was promoted in early June and was doing the same. All he does is attack the zone. It’s a simple plan that he can execute. The 2016 11th round pick out of BYU took over the injured Oscar de la Cruz’s spot in Myrtle Beach’s starting rotation and has never looked back. Check out this line from Monday night – 8 IP, 10 Ks, 2 hits, and 0 runs.
Preston Morrison – He’s had an up and down year. After a 1.88 ERA in May, it ballooned to 6 in June, and he is killing it in July with a 1.50 ERA. I enjoyed watching him last year at South Bend where he used what I call a “whiffle ball repertoire” to confound hitters. His last two starts saw him go 6 IP apiece and only give up 1 run in each.
Adbert Alzolay – He was promoted from Myrtle Beach to Tennessee two weeks ago. He proceeded to strike out ten in his five inning AA debut. So far, he has a 2.70 ERA in two AA starts. With a fastball that he can maintain deep into games, he bears a lot of watching.
Jesus Camargo – He comes across as a sneaky pitcher who I love to watch pitch. Currently at short season Eugene, he is having a good season after missing all of 2016. He has upper 80s/low 90s heat with a mid 70s curve and a changeup that is just plain filthy and that he can add and subtract mph. It is really a devastating pitch. The 21-year-old righty has a 1.73 ERA in six appearances and has struck out 31 in 26 IP. I really enjoy watching him work.
Jose Paulino – His last two starts saw him throw 12 scoreless innings with 12 Ks. His ERA for July is 0.55. Just six weeks ago, he was taken out of the rotation and placed in the bullpen. The young lefty has returned with a vengeance.
There should be even more great performances coming on a nightly basis. Hopefully Oscar de la Cruz will return to action along with Jake Stinnett. Stinnett made a rehab appearance this week down in Mesa. Trevor Clifton will look to bounce back in his next start and Bryan Hudson looks to recapture his ground ball magic. Even Bailey Clark has shown signs that he was a good gamble. Last night, he struck out 8 in 5 IP. He struck out 9 a couple of weeks ago. It’s getting deep when it comes to Cubs’ starting pitching.
Mind you, these 11 are just the starters. I did not talk about the relievers. I will be covering some of them the next few days.
By Todd Johnson
At some point over the next two weeks, the Cubs will select up to eight players to participate in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. The league is a collection of elite talent. Held in October and November, the Cubs use this opportunity to evaluate how some players do against top-flight competition. The Cubs also use the league after to determine if they want to add certain players to the 40 man roster to avoid losing them in the Rule V Draft. And they also get some top prospects, who have been injured, some extra games in.
This year is quite the conundrum. I think the Cubs could add up to 8 prospects to the 40 man roster this winter. Here is List of Eligible Players for the rule five draft per The Cub Reporter:
Tyler Alamo, Adbert Alzolay, Luis Ayala, Yasiel Balaguert, Corey Black, David Bote, Cael Brockmeyer, Charcer Burks, Stephen Bruno, Roberto Caro, Trevor Clifton, Kevin Cornelius, Oscar de la Cruz, Enrique de los Rios, Andin Diaz, Andrew Ely, Luiz Escanio, Bryant Flete, Robert Garcia, David Garner, Yapson Gomez, Zach Hedges, Luis Hernandez, Jesse Hodges, Eloy Jiménez, John Michael Knighton, Erick Leal, Mark Malave, Dillon Maples, Brad Markey, Joe Martarano, Ryan McNeil, Jordan Minch, Erling Moreno, James Norwood, Juan Carlos Paniagua, Adonis Paula, Jose Paulino, Tyler Pearson, Henry Pedra, Stephen Perakslis, Jhonny Pereda, Chris Pieters, Bijan Rademacher, Moises Ramirez, Will Remillard, Juan Rengifo, David Rollins, Manuel Rondon, Carson Sands, Pedro Silverio, Jake Stinnett, Tommy Thorpe, Jen-Ho Tseng, Jason Vosler, Ryan Williams, Chesny Young, Jose Zapata.
I think two pitchers they want to get a closer look at are Dillon Maples and Adbert Alzolay. Although Alzolay is a starter, he could work in relief in Mesa. I also think 3B Jason Vosler and OF Charcer Burks are definitely going to Arizona. You could even throw in left-handed reliever Jordan Minch as that is a scarce position in the majors. The Cubs could also use a closer look at C Ian Rice and to get him more time behind the plate with elite pitchers. Closer Pedro Araujo Is another ascending reliever who the Cubs might want to take a look at. Currently he is dominating as the closer at Myrtle Beach. Outfielder Eddy Martinez could get a shot at Arizona if he could improve a little bit this summer. Currently, he is hitting .325 over his last 10 games.
The big-name prospect that they could send this year is not Eloy. Instead it is pitcher Oscar de la Cruz who missed most of June with a strained shoulder muscle. I would like to see how his mid 90s heat does against more advanced hitters.
As a result, I think the Cubs will definitely select a minimum of five players to go on the 40 man roster this winter. I do think they could really add up to eight.
Definitely 40 man material
Adbert Alzolay, Charcer Burks, Trevor Clifton, Oscar de la Cruz, Eloy Jimenez
I think these five are all on a major-league track. Adbert’s has been a surprise this year along with Burks. The other three have been some of the Cubs top prospects for the past three years. I would be stunned if Clifton, Jimenez, and de la Cruz are not on the 40 man.
Most Likely Added
I really like Dillon Maples. His curveball is out of this world and he’s really taking big steps toward becoming a major-league reliever this year. I think it all boils down to confidence for him and he will probably be in Iowa in August. As for Jason Vosler, I think the Cubs need to see what they have in the left-handed third baseman before they make a decision. He had a great April and May before slumping in June, even though he hit five home runs for the month.
Maybe – Maybe Not
Chesny Young has not had the greatest year. I don’t think the Cubs are going to protect him. If they don’t, I think somebody might snag him. Jen-Ho Tseng is a tricky one. He’s had a rebirth this year, but I don’t know if he will make it to Chicago if he does get put on the 40 man.
Bijan Rademacher is a guy you root for. He is still relatively young and can play all three outfield positions. He just doesn’t have much power but he can hit for a high average.
Jake Stinnett, Erick Leal, Ryan Williams, Zach Hedges, Carson Sands – These are all nice guys but injuries have done four out of five of them in for this year. Sands might be one to talk about a year from now. He is currently rehabbing in Mesa after elbow splints.
Joe Martarano – even though he missed a season playing football, he was just promoted to South Bend. I know a team is not going to take a chance and select him with the expectation of him playing on the major-league roster. A year from now, that might be a different discussion.
Jordan Minch – he’s left-handed, he’s a reliever, and if exposed, he might get selected. But that’s a big if.
Do they stay on?
Right now Pierce Johnson, Dwayne Underwood, and Jacob Hannemann are all on the 40 man roster. Johnson and Underwood have had underwhelming seasons in 2016, while Hanneman has had a resurgence in his best month as a prospect since his promotion to AAA Iowa. I think the Cubs give them one more year. Underwood, after all, is only 22 years old. On the other hand, Johnson and Hannemann are 26.
The decisions for the Arizona Fall League usually occur in the middle of July. Whomever the Cubs select to attend always gives a glimpse into who they value and who they need to evaluate some more.